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Cats Adaptations
Cats Adaptations

​​​​​​What is an "adaptation?" (ad-ap-tay-shun)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that adaptation means "adjustment to environmental conditions: . . . b: modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment." So, adaptations are adjustments or features that animals have to help them live where they do. Adaptations help animals move, stay warm, and find food, water and shelter. For example, the webbed feet of a duck are an adaptation that helps it swim or move through the water more easily. Hibernation, as another example, is an adaptation that helps black bears survive the winter.

Lynx belong to the cat family, Felidae (Felidae comes from the Greek word for cat, felinus.)

All members of the cat family, including lynx, mountain lions, bobcats, and domestic cats are predators. They have some adaptations in common. For example, they all have forward facing eyes, sharp claws and big fangs or canine (kay-nine) teeth. Because they live in different habitats, lynx have some adaptations that are unique.

Why do lynx have such beautiful fur coats?

A lynx moving across a partial snowfield. DOW photo.

Lynx have multi-colored fur for two reasons:

  1. Fur provides insulation (in-suhl-ay-shun), so it protects them from extreme heat and cold, and

  2. Camouflage (cam-oh-flahj) helps them sneak up on prey and hide from predators by helping them blend blend in with the rocks, trees, and grasses.

Lynx live in cold, snowy environments. They have long, soft coats to keep them warm. They have extra long hair on their legs and paws to help them move in snow (kind of like wearing snowshoes!) Their fur is gray to reddish-brown with white-tipped hairs. They have spots, too, but they are barely visible on their body. It is important to lynx that their prey does not see them. Their fur helps them hide because the color and markings blend in with their surroundings.

Why do lynx have such big feet?

Lynx look a lot like bobcats, except that they have huge, hairy paws. They live in coniferous forests, where the snow gets very deep in winter. (A coniferous forest has cone-bearing trees, like pines, spruces, firs and larches.) Lynx’s large paws work like snowshoes. Just as snowshoes keep people from sinking in the snow, lynx paws support twice as much weight on snow.

Why do lynx have big eyes?

Lynx have big eyes that face forward, as yours do. Lynx are predators. They hunt to survive and need to accurately judge distance of their prey. Forward facing eyes, like yours or lynx’s, work together and are better able to tell distances and the sizes of objects. (This is called "binocular vision". Can you guess why?) Prey animals, like snowshoe hare or deer, have eyes on the sides of their head. With eyes on the sides of their heads, they can see in almost any direction. This helps them escape from danger.

Cells called "rods" and "cones" make up the part of the eye that captures light. Cones help see color and rods detect light. Cats' eyes have more rods than human eyes. They can see better in the dark than people can. A cat can see in one-fifth the amount of light that people can. Since cats have more rods in their eyes, they have fewer cones. This means cats cannot see color as well as people can. However, scientists think that cats can see some colors.

Why do lynx have very large claws?

Lynx, mountain lions and other cats, need their claws to grip prey. Like all cats, lynx keep their claws drawn in toward their paws or "retracted." This prevents their claws from breaking and keeps them sharp. Dogs, like coyotes or wolves, grip prey with their jaws. They cannot retract their claws.

With their claws retracted, lynx paws make no noise. This helps them sneak up on their prey. You can hear the difference having "sneaky" paws makes: Listen to a dog walking down a sidewalk or across a hard floor—you can hear the dog’s claws click, click, clicking as it walks. Compare that to a cat walking down a sidewalk . . .  Silence!

Why do lynx have big, sharp teeth?

Lynx have short jaws. Their short jaws give them a wide, strong bite, making them capable of killing their prey in a single bite. Shorter jaws have fewer teeth. Lynx have only 28 teeth. Mountain lions have 30. Black bears and coyotes have 42. However, lynx and mountain lions have larger fangs or canine (kay-nine) teeth than other predators.

People also have short jaws. We have 32 teeth. However, our teeth are quite different from the lynx’s. We have short, square teeth for crushing and grinding food. Lynx have sharp, pointed teeth for cutting and slicing meat.
A lynx walking across snow. DOW photo.Why do lynx have long legs?

Lynx use their hind legs for jumping and running. The hind legs of a lynx are very powerful and are slightly longer than the front legs. Lynx crouch before they jump or pounce on prey. When lynx crouch, their leg muscles stretch tight, like a rubber band. When they release the energy stored in their legs, they jump forward. Much the same way, a tightly stretched rubber band will fly to the other side of a room, when you let go of it. A lynx is only about three feet long, yet it can jump about 25 feet! The average person can jump only about three feet.

Why do lynx have odd-looking ears?

Hearing is another important adaptation for hunting. Cats have twenty muscles to move their ears. Being able to move their ears in nearly a half circle helps them find prey quickly. Lynx hear higher pitched sounds than people. They are able to hear a mouse squeaking or a rabbit moving its foot. Lynx also use their ears to indicate mood. They lay their ears back when they are angry or feel threatened.

A lynx, sitting. Why do lynx have "bristly" tongues?

A lynx’s rough, bristly tongue is a multi-purpose tool. A cat’s tongue is rough, because the taste-buds, or papillae (puh-pil-ee), are hook-shaped, rather than like little bumps (like yours). These hooks help comb the cat’s fur or trap liquid when they drink. They also help scrape meat off the bones of prey. This meat scraping tool is especially important in winter, when lynx feed on carcasses of larger animals, such as deer and elk, that have died.

Why do lynx have whiskers?

Cats’ whiskers are not just hairs. They are, actually, more like "fingers around the face" because they "feel" objects. Whiskers help cats avoid obstacles, even in total darkness. Lynx move their whiskers around using the muscles on their face. This allows them to feel objects all around their face.